Doing Justice in a Dusty Courtroom in an Overlooked Corner of the World
Here’s a wonderful story from my friend and former student Jeff Cook on the wonderful work he is doing in Cambodia with International Justice Mission to fight child prostitution. Jeff Cook is a former law clerk to Judge Urbina in Washington, D.C. and a former associate at O’Melveny & Myers. Here is Jeff’s account of the conviction of a man who had been selling the sexual services of an eight-year-old girl:
“Just before Christmas I received a gift that was far greater than any I had ever received. From an impoverished village outside of Phnom Penh where abuse, molestation and trafficking are part of daily life, a story of triumph, hope and inspiration emerged. A little over two years ago a small eight-year-old girl, weighing no more than 40 pounds, was being sold day in and day out to foreign pedophiles. Through persistence and prayer, IJM was able to work with the police to rescue this particular girl from her horrific situation. A few months later, the pimp, a strikingly tall Vietnamese man, was arrested for arranging these elicit and illegal encounters with pedophiles.
From the time of her rescue, the young girl lived in a shelter due to the danger of further abuse if returned to her family. As she spent more and more time at the shelter she became better able to verbalize what had happened to her. This is a testament both to the strength of the young girl and to the effectiveness of the care she received from the shelter’s counselors and staff. Sitting in on the trial preparation well over a year after her rescue, I was amazed to see the ease with which she discussed the crimes committed against her. And in a moment of downtime she exhibited her comfort and conversancy with these sensitive topics when she picked up a large picture book and began instructing those in the room on the differences between appropriate and inappropriate behavior with children. At that point, I pinched myself, and to my relief, I was indeed awake witnessing a miraculous development. I prayed at the time that she could pull upon this strength to provide testimony at the trial that was to take place the following week.
On the morning of trial, which was scheduled for the week before Christmas, she appeared calm, cool and collected. But when the perpetrator entered the courtroom, everything fell apart for this young girl. She began shaking and crying uncontrollably, gripped with fear at the sight of the imposing man who had been the vehicle for years of sexual abuse. As counselors comforted her, the court kindly provided a screen to shield the young girl from the perpetrator’s intimidating glares.
There was another victim, a fourteen-year-old girl, there that day who had been sold by this perpetrator several years earlier. Due to this girl’s family situation, she had remained in a shelter all this time and was able to provide lucid, strong and incriminating testimony against the perpetrator. The younger girl watched intently as the fourteen year old gave her testimony. She saw the courageous testimony and when it concluded, said, “I want to be brave like she was.” Without any tears or hesitation she stood up and walked around the protective screen to the center of the well of the court. For her small stature, she stood tall, with no more than five feet between her and the perpetrator on one side and the same distance separating her from a large table set up on a platform with three judges staring at her on the other. She then explained in great detail to each of her inquisitors (including the defense attorney) how the perpetrator or his friends would pick her up from her home and take her to be sexually abused by foreigners. She even explained how the perpetrator taught her what to do and how he negotiated prices. This small and vulnerable child had provided powerful and overwhelming evidence of the perpetrator’s guilt.
A week after the trial, on Christmas Day, the verdict was handed down — the perpetrator was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison. In a small dusty courtroom in an overlooked corner of the world, justice was done. And for one young girl that meant all the world.
Please remember this girl and many like her who regularly face their fears by facing their abusers in courtrooms. And please pray for this girl and this case as it will no doubt be appealed requiring the victims to appear in court again to provide further testimony.”